One of the best parts of any visit up to Holland is visiting with family.  This time we stayed with my cousin Leny, in Schin op Geul, right outside of Valkenburg.  Anyone lucky enough to visit Holland, I highly recommend a trip to the “south” to see the beautiful rolling hills, farm country, Maastricht, cathedrals & castles.  And to try the region specialty: vlaai.

Vlaai is a type of pie.  A very big pie, unlike any you’ve ever tasted. The pastry is not sweet, almost bread-like, and the filling ranges from fruit (I love apricot!) to a rice-pudding that needs to be tasted to truly appreciate.  When I was a child my Opa baked our vlaai’s in his wood-burning clay oven.  My father remembers the clay getting old, and dust getting in the vlaai’s. I just remember how much I loved them and how perfect they made Sundays.

On Sundays, after church, we’d walk into my grandparents living room and the big table was lined with vlaai’s.  Back then I only really loved apple  vlaai, but as the years went by I learned to love reistevlaai, cherry vlaai, my-now-favorite apricot vlaai and my Opa’s famous-recipe kruimelvlaai.  Kruimelvlaai can be described as a vanilla pudding pie, with a crumb topping.  But it is like nothing American I’ve ever tasted.  I’m suddenly craving vlaai.  Sigh.

My cousin Leny & her husband Hans run a small bakery outside of Valkenburg.  Hans makes his own vlaai’s, including a kruimelvlaai based on my Opa’s recipe.  Not only can you buy them fresh in the shop, but he delivers to the restaurants & hotels in the Valkenburg area.  My kids love going to Leny’s.  Cole just likes to come and eat.  In the last couple of years Hans has started baking mini-vlaai’s (still big, almost the size of US pie). Cole loves to walk over to the bakery, grab a mini vlaai, and eat it all by himself.  His favorite is cherry.

Tess likes to help.  She’s too young at 12 to officially help, but every time we visit she spends some time following Hans around till he gives her a small chore or two.  This time she helped bake the rolls (the onion cheese are to die for!) and finish up the strawberry mini vlaai’s.  Strawberry vlaai’s are crust, pudding, and then whole, sweet, delicious strawberries glazed, and then double-crusted with nuts.  Tess started with topping the vlaai’s with strawberries.  Then she learned how to glaze, and finally she progressed to finishing the crust with nuts.

I cannot believe how big & grown-up she looks working in the bakery, with her apron almost triple-wrapped around her.  She can’t wait till the summer she is 14 and she can finally, really, truly work in the bakery.

I’m not done and so far it’s only in Dutch, though I’m working on an English-version as well, but I’ve got a small website up for Leny & Hans.  If you are ever in Holland, stop by Bie d’r Bekker.  Tell them Toiny sent you.